(Yesterday’s post generated a great deal of interest in the state of the sport given Competitor Group’s decision to end its elite athlete program as currently constituted. One of the responses to my column came from Competitor CEO Scott Dickey. I didn’t want his detailed review of the situation to be lost in the comments section, so I have placed it here as a guest blog.
I want to thank Scott for his respectful and candid remarks, and hope this back-and-forth helps shed light on both CGI’s decision, and brings those concerned about the state of running to a better understanding of what we need to do to improve that state. My response follows.)
Toni, after reading your post I thought it might be best that I reply publicly to clear the air a bit. Let me start by reinforcing my respect for you and all you have done for the sport. There are very few individuals that have dedicated so much energy, passion and hours to the sport of running like you Toni, and for that we all owe you a huge debt of gratitude.
I was somewhat surprised to read your post today especially after yesterday’s public quote in the Runner’s World? For those that didn’t have a chance to read that piece Toni’s quote started with: “I don’t blame them,” Reavis told Runner’s World Newswire. For the full quote and story, here’s the link.
I don’t fault you for reviewing our decision and for changing your mind after further reflection. But I do want to clear up a few things.
“Poof” as you put it when referring to the overnight decision is a tad inaccurate. Our decision to no longer pay appearance fees for Elites in our North American RnR events was a difficult one to say the least. This is not a ‘practical end’ of our support of the sport, but it was a clear strategic acknowledgement of investing in elements that impact all 500,000 runners at RnR events not just the 50 or so at the front of the pack.
Competitor Group is at it’s core a health and wellness company dedicated to promoting and enhancing an active lifestyle. Lifestyle is the key word, not Sport. Rock n Roll marathons have always been about the journey, the commitment, the personal dedication required to train and finish a half or full marathon. We’re not about how fast you complete the race, we’re about the fact that you showed up on the start line and the commitment one has made to complete the journey.
We will always celebrate the achievements of the greatest athletes in the Sport and hold them up as inspiration for all of us to enjoy. We will do this through our media assets like Competitor mag, Competitor.com, Triathlete mag, Triathlete.com, Women’s Running mag, Women’s Running.com. We have more staff dedicated to reporting on the Sport than any company in the world other than Rodale. With regard to RnR, we will always welcome the elites, we are just not going to spend in excess of 7-figures annually to simply have them show up. It represents a disconnect from the brand and the very promise of participating in a RnR event. We’re going to reinvest those dollars into entertainment, the experience, more staff to execute more flawlessly, and in our continued efforts to increase participation.
While we are the largest series in the world, we’re not the only ones who have taken this position. Of the 5 top marketshare properties in the U.S. (Competitor, Disney, NYRR, US Road Sports and Nike), only one of them, NYRR, has a significant investment in Elite Athletes at their races. So while our decision may disappoint, it certainly is not without precedent.
With regard to TV component of your post, I want to remind you that it wasn’t until last year that NYRR and Mary were able to secure a national broadcast deal with ESPN after so many years of having a local ABC time buy. As you know, the media landscape has changed dramatically in the past five years, and while we continue to seek broadcast partners on a market by market basis (KLAS in Vegas, WRAL in Raleigh, etc), the ability to sell advertising in support of such broadcasts is difficult to say the least and a much more complicated process than the picture you are painting. I know you understand this intimately.
While I understand that financial investors are always an easy target, I find the whole private equity discussion somewhat naive. You don’t have to look very far for great analogies to understand that increased public and private investment into a Sport can lead to tremendous growth for all. Private equity investment strategy is all about growth. You don’t cut your way to growth. Our decision to reinvest in other areas of the experience is a strategic decision and not one that we take lightly for a moment. You don’t have to look far, maybe start with the annual Running USA participation studies, to confirm the facts about RnR’s contributions to the sport and the growth of the industry. We have taken more risk, invested more dollars than anyone in the history of the industry and whether it is the highest percentage of female participation in the industry or the highest percentage of first timers joining the fun, I’m not sure it is valid to question our dedication or commitment to promoting running and growing participation.
And by the way, let’s not forget that almost all of the industry’s dominate players operate as public equity or private equity operations: Active, Disney, Nike, Lifetime, World Triathlon Corp and Competitor. WIth outside investment industries grow, innovate and become more sophisticated. I don’t think Competitor needs to apologize or hide from this basic fundamental premise.
With much respect,
Once again thank you for your considered response. I would like to add, however, that I didn’t change my mind at all, rather further amplified on my RW comment. I do still believe it is the long-term stakeholders who are primarily at fault for allowing “the sport” to falter, not CGI, which was a late comer into the game.
That said, I would point out that Falconhead Capital and now Calera Capital didn’t purchase the Color Run series, they bought Elite Racing, which includes its legacy of elite competition. To say you are only in the health and wellness business is like someone buying the NFL and deciding to get rid of the games and concentrating on flag football and tailgating.
So the vehemence of the community’s response to your decision comes from a deep-seeded (though admittedly naive) hope that CGI would keep the legacy alive, and maybe even provide the juice to take it to the level we had all seen before, and wished to experience once again. To you this decision didn’t come out of the blue, but it did for everyone else. Hopefully, we will use it as a wake up call.